22 May 2017
I cried more times than I can remember in the weeks following 22 May. Often not even outright weeping but that more painful state where the sense of numbness and shock stops the tears from fully bleeding out. The depravity of the act. The children involved. That it happened in a place and city deeply rooted in my everyday life. The gnawing knowledge that were circumstances a little different that day I would have been caught up in the bombing (the spot where I hang before my train was in the blast radius). But some part of me also mourned because as soon as the attacker was reported to be British, what I’d been sensing and fearing for years had come to a head.
I see many young Muslims feeling cultural uncertainty, sometimes not even cognizant of it. Dual identities pull them so hard in opposite directions they’re ultimately left with no identity. I knew what his background would be before they described it. Alcohol. Partying. Drugs. Girls. And a sudden guilt-trip 180.
Though I’m increasingly ambivalent towards organized religion, I have blood-deep understanding of working-class British Muslim culture, where many of these attackers have sprung from. While we can blame foreign policy and such issues (and yes, they are factors), this is still on us.
We can blindfold and deafen ourselves. This won’t shroud the truth that difficult conversations about aspects of British Muslim culture are needed. And because we aren’t having them, the far-right is. Hate peddlers are. Tabloids craving headlines have hijacked the conversation. Theresa May and her cohorts. Well-meaning but naive liberals who insist our communities are fine when they have no real understanding of the struggles underpinning our lives. And they can never have these conversations with the nuance, insight or experience we can.
It’s difficult, I know, but those among us capable of using our eyes and ears, of perceiving certain realities of British Muslim life, must swallow pride and start seeking and offering solutions to issues wounding our communities. This also means focusing on things the media tends not to. The link between gang/drug culture and jihadism. Why many of our young are still taught in madrassas by imported teachers with zero awareness of cultures beyond their own. How meaningful integration in no way means you must reject your native identity (some of the best integrated Muslims aren’t those clubbing and drinking, but those enjoying regular open-minded dialogue with others).
And allow me to loosen my tongue a little more before I lay down my next sentence…
Another issue that needs addressing is the superiority complex some Muslims have, where just because they were born into being a Muslim they feel they’re somehow above non-Muslims. I’m no theologian, but I think this stems from an excess of cultural pride, and perhaps dodgy parental influence, rather than religion itself. Telling too is the immediate gut reaction of many British Muslims to such events. Usually some variation of, ‘This is what Syrians feel like’, or ‘That’s how Iraqis live’. Earliest Islam never mandated expressing more empathy and concern for someone a million miles away who you’ve never met or will meet than your own community. It all comes from this culturally-skewed and politicized idea of ‘ummah’. The original concept of ‘ummah’ included non-Muslims, and Hadiths explicitly state Muslims whose neighbours are not secure from harm are denied paradise. It’s human for us to feel sympathy towards the Middle Eastern oppressed, but when it’s always the default response, and tool of deflection, it’s clear a dangerous Us and Them mentality has somehow become collectively entrenched.
And I’m not even wasting energy on the ‘It’s all a conspiracy’ crowd right now.
We can’t passively wait until another of our broken, misguided or disturbed young men drift down dark and depraved paths and then call some hotline. What usually comes of it?
No, it’s on us.